Analyzing Bolsonaro’s pick for Justice Minister

. Apr 30, 2020
Justice Minister André Luiz Mendonça shakes hands with President Bolsonaro. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR Justice Minister André Luiz Mendonça shakes hands with President Bolsonaro. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet has been a constant source of crisis in recent weeks, with high-ranking ministers leaving after feuds with the president. The first out the door was former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who clashed with Mr. Bolsonaro’s denial of the Covid-19 crisis’ severity. Next, it was Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who resigned while accusing the president of a multitude of crimes. On top of that, the government’s economic team is bickering among themselves, with rumors of the possible resignation of economic tsar Paulo Guedes making a risk-averse market even more jittery. 

In a bid to calm the nerves within his own cabinet, Jair Bolsonaro swore in André Luiz Mendonça as the

new Justice Minister, who the president hopes will act as a form of peacemaker. Previously working as Brazil&#8217;s <a href="">Solicitor General</a>, Mr. Mendonça is loyal to the president while also being a respected legal mind, winning awards for his innovative work in triggering legal instruments to recover money embezzled in corruption schemes.</p> <p>Though largely unknown by the public, the appointment of Mr. Mendonça will grant the government credibility among political stakeholders. As an added bonus for President Bolsonaro, the new Justice Minister enjoys an excellent relationship with Supreme Court Chief Justice Dias Toffoli, with whom he worked at the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office.</p> <p>Justice Minister Mendonça represents a far more technocratic appointment than what we have grown to expect from the Bolsonaro government. He endorsed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the past —&nbsp;and in 2018, he backed former Environment Minister Marina Silva&#8217;s presidential bid. Previously, appointing those with any links to &#8220;left-wing politics&#8221; would be out of the question for such a trusted position in the Bolsonaro administration.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3553348"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The challenges ahead of the new Justice Minister</h2> <p>Mr. Mendonça has <a href="">20 years of experience</a> in public service, with all of that time spent at the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from the University of Salamanca, in Spain, where he is a visiting professor. &#8220;The admirable intellectual training and the rich professional experience of the new minister inspire the confidence that we will have in justice and security affairs,&#8221; declared João Otávio de Noronha, head of the Superior Court of Justice — Brazil&#8217;s second-highest judicial body.</p> <p>While extending an olive branch to Brazil&#8217;s institutions, he promised to continue the &#8220;tough-on-crime&#8221; message championed by his predecessor. &#8220;Entire generations in Brazil don&#8217;t know what it is to live in safety. We need to make the rule of law prevail in Brazil once and for all,&#8221; said Mr. Mendonça, in his inauguration speech.</p> <p>That will be easier said than done. Brazil has seen a surge in the number of murders over the past seven months, after a continuous drop made possible by momentary truces between organized crime gangs and intelligence-based police strategies deployed by the Michel Temer administration in 2017 and 2018. &#8220;This could be the beginning of the effects of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s reckless ideological effort to deregulate gun ownership in Brazil,&#8221; write Renato Sérgio de Lima and Samira Bueno, from the Brazilian Public Security Forum.</p> <h2>The Federal Police Chief debacle</h2> <p>One of the first disputes on Mr. Mendonça&#8217;s lap is the appointment of a new Federal Police Chief. After changes in management and accusations of presidential meddling led Sergio Moro to resign from the Justice Ministry, Jair Bolsonaro tried to appoint close ally Alexandre Ramagem to the vacant Federal Police position. However, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes blocked the president&#8217;s pick, which Mr. Bolsonaro intends to appeal.</p> <p>Mr. Ramagem made his name within the Federal Police as a security coordinator for major events, such as the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games. He got closer to the Bolsonaro family during the 2018 electoral campaign, when he was named the then-candidate&#8217;s head of security after <a href="">Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed</a> in September 2018. After the electoral win, Mr. Ramagem became an advisor to the president-elect and was subsequently named head of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin).&nbsp;</p> <p>Under normal circumstances, Mr. Ramagem&#8217;s name would not cause such outrage. But the detective has become a close friend to Carlos Bolsonaro, one of the president&#8217;s sons and the subject of federal probes. He is accused of <a href="">running an underground &#8216;digital militia&#8217; which spreads fake news online</a> to smear political adversaries. And as the president publicly admitted to wanting &#8220;daily reports on relevant police operations,&#8221; it becomes impossible not to be suspicious of Mr. Ramagem.</p> <p>&#8220;The Federal Police Chief must be shielded from political interference,&#8221; said the Association of Forensic Experts, in a press statement. The Association of Federal Police Detectives went the same way, &#8220;reiterating the need for President Bolsonaro to publicly commit to the autonomy of the institution.&#8221;</p> <p>Some, however, have blasted the political mainstream&#8217;s reaction as unwarranted. &#8220;It is not uncommon that the police chief is someone who has a good relationship with the president. Maurício Valeixo, the outgoing chief, is a friend of Sergio Moro — and no one batted an eyelid,&#8221; said one senior Federal Police member, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. Another source goes further: &#8220;It is not at all easy to interfere with a federal probe,&#8221; he says.</p> <h2>Solicitor General</h2> <p>To replace Mr. Mendonça at the Solicitor General position, President Bolsonaro chose José Levi Mello, the former General Counsel for the Federal Treasury. Before joining the Bolsonaro government, Mr. Levi served as Deputy Justice Minister during the <a href="">Michel Temer administration</a>. He also acted as a legal counsel during <a href="">Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s time in office</a>. At 43 years old, the new Solicitor General is a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of São Paulo, where he obtained his Ph.D.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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